How to Develop a Laboratory Notebook

The most important piece of equipment you will use when working in lab is your lab notebook. Since science is built upon the premise that results are reproducible, we must leave detailed information so others could reproduce our work if they read our notes. For this class, you should use a 3-ring binder. Your notebook is the only source of information of all that you have done in lab. It should be an accurate account of what you did, why you did it, when you did it, what the results were, and what these results mean. Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind while developing your notebook.


1) Notebooks do not have to be "neat" but they should be legible (i.e. write neat enough for me to be able to read it). Record the date at the top of each page. Do not recopy your notes. NEVER!! By recopying your notes, you may filter out some information that seems insignificant at the time, but may be very valuable later.

Also, a notebook is not designed to be a duplication of the lab manual. Just cite the lab manual pages, and then record any deviations from the published protocol.

Divide your notebook into 3 sections: a) copies of protocols you use; b) your notes and hard copies of your data; c) papers and reprints.


2) You may use either pen or pencil, but if you use pencil, make sure it is dark enough to be seen easily.


3) Record all measurements and calculations you perform.


4) Explain why your are performing a particular procedure. What is the purpose and what do you expect to see? Is there more than one possible outcome?


5) Record the data in hard copy format and backup any electronic data. If it is a gel, then tape a copy of the gel into your notebook, label the lanes (by numbers), and link the gel photo to the appropriate date. The data should be placed as close as possible to where you designed the experiment. Leave a blank space for the pending data. For example, if you did a PCR in week 2 and run the gel in week 3, indicate when the samples where prepared near the gel. Label the percentage of the gel and what was loaded in each lane (i.e. tell what the numbers for each lane mean).


6) It is very important to include hard copies of your data followed by interpretations of the results. What do all those little dots mean??! Refer to the hard copy of your data and write detailed explanations of what your data mean to you and what you need to do next.


7) You should note if you need to repeat the experiment, or you are ready for the next step. At this time, you should mention what the next step is.


8) Record any observations that you think might be significant. If you deviated from the normal protocol, you should record all variations.


9) It is often a good idea to record the times when you start and stop a procedure. This will enable you to be sure you do not go too long or too short.

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